In a spirited effort to revitalise a crime-ravaged landscape, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia – alongside USAID Morodok Baitang, the Mondulkiri provincial environment department and Keo Seima district authorities – embarked on a rejuvenating mission on June 19.

They began the resurrection of the Sre Khtum commune’s O’rona village in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima district, a “victim” of past deforestation crimes, by planting 3,000 saplings.

Keo Seima district governor San Kim Eap shared on June 20 that this regreening endeavour had spanned over 4ha, introducing into the soil indigenous luxury timber trees such as beng (Afzelia xylocarpa) and koki (Hopea odorata). An enthusiastic cohort of forest rangers, educators and students lent their hands to the replanting process.

“We’re restoring an area previously scarred by criminal activities. Our blueprints extend to the replanting of other sites during the rainy season, with an additional 5,000 trees set to root in the future,” Eap disclosed.

Eap further championed the cause by encouraging all involved, particularly the younger participants, to cultivate a sense of stewardship towards these saplings.

“In one’s lifetime, plant a tree, raise a child, and pen a book – these are the legacies we leave behind,” he imparted.

Emphasising the collective responsibility for the undertaking, Khon Phalla, of the Keo Seima REDD+ Project, said, “The sowing of saplings is of utmost importance. It’s a shared duty to safeguard the forest for future generations to relish and understand the richness of Cambodia’s luxury trees”.

A Facebook post by Keo Seima REDD+ on June 19 extolled the wildlife sanctuary’s bountiful natural resources and heritage sites. It underscored the interdependence of the Bunong ethnic minority group, who have long relied on the region’s natural wealth for sustenance, shelter, and spiritual pursuits.

However, mounting population pressure and land demands have led to illegal deforestation, threatening the sanctuary’s ecological balance. The WCS, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and local authorities, has been steadfast in their commitment to conserve the sanctuary’s natural resources and enhance local livelihoods.

The Keo Seima REDD+ project, as mentioned in their Facebook update, has been actively mediating land disputes, dedicating confiscated areas as sacred forest for indigenous communities to venerate and preserve according to their traditions.